Got up early to check out Wordpress and found a screen filled with black boxes instead? Wanted to finish that assignment and couldn't use Wikipedia today? There's a reason for that, and more.

More than a dozen other websites so far have joined the 24-hour Internet blackout led by the English-language Wikipedia free online encyclopedia to protest two controversial U.S. bills pending in Congress. The protest began Tuesday at midnight.

The sites contend that the two proposed anti-piracy measures, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) will stifle free speech and inhibit people's free access to online information around the world.

The bills are backed primarily by the entertainment industry, which has taken a serious hit from illegal downloading and streaming of music, videos, movies and TV shows. They are intended to stop copyright infringement, but are "badly drafted legislation," contends Wikipedia in a statement on its website, that instead will "cause serious damage to the free and open Internet.

"They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves," Wikipedia points out, adding that big media companies could use the new laws to knock out competitors even if copyright is not being threatened.

Foreign sites will be blacklisted and won't show up in major search engines, the protesters claim, "and SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression."

Among the sites participating in the protest are Wordpress,, Craigslist, Reddit, Huffington Post, and others.

The MSNBC news website carefully posted a statement within the text of an article on the protest explaining its own position on the matter, pointing out its status as a joint venture of Microsoft and Comcast/NBC Universal. "Comcast/NBC Universal is listed as a supporter of SOPA on the House Judiciary Committee website." On Tuesday, Microsoft itself said it opposes SOPA as it is "currently drafted," the news site explained.

The U.S.-based Google website posted a black strip across its logo at midnight Tuesday night but allowed searching to continue. The mammoth search engine then posted on its search page a line under the search field urging its users to "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!" with a link leading to a Google website entitled "End Piracy, Not Liberty" with information on SOPA and PIPA.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also published a detailed article on specific parts of the legislation that will muffle free speech and limit access to free information on the Internet.

According to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, its English-language site alone receives approximately 25 million hits per day, as measured by comScore.